The original Passage Through Mirkwood is almost on the level of a tutorial quest. Sure, it has a few nasty enemies in Ungoliant’s Spawn, Captain Ufthak, and Hummerhorns, but in general once you’ve figured out how to play the game it doesn’t usually take too much to trounce this quest reliably.
For those who don’t remember, the quest starts with 2 cards in play: a relatively tame Enemy and downright helpful Location. The quest deck has three stages, the first two being straightforward with 8 and 2 quest points respectively, and the last stage being chosen from two options at random. One makes you go fetch and defeat the boss Enemy Ungoliant’s Spawn, the other just has 10 quest points and forces you to defeat Ungoliant’s Spawn only if she is already in play.
The Nightmare version of this quest certainly elevates it from tutorial status, making it a worthy quest in its own right. However, it’s still not terribly difficult when compared to other Nightmare quests.
The mechanics and theme are really tightened up from the original, and now they focus on exhausting your characters and then punishing you for having exhausted characters. The cards to be aware of are the new version of Ungoliant’s Spawn, which reduces the willpower of all questing characters by 2 and then discards them if they are at 0, and The Spider’s Web, a Condition Treachery that exhausts all of your heroes and then deals 1 damage to the attached hero every time it readies.
Building the deck
Okay, so this quest takes place in Mirkwood, so let’s start there. A quick search on RingsDB reaveals that we don’t have very many Mirkwood elves at all in the current card pool: Legolas, Mirkwood Runner, and a couple of ambiguously named silvans like Woodland Courier and Silvan Tracker. So until FFG announces a deluxe containing Thranduil (a guy can hope!) I’m going to have to expand my theme to the Silvans of Lórien. That’s still pretty good, since the story here is that the heroes are heading to Lórien anyway.
The traditional Silvan deck starts with the Lady and Lord of Lórien, Galadriel and Celeborn. They’re a mechanical home run here too, since Galadriel helps me keep my Allies from exhausting the turn they enter play, preventing some of the nasty effects the deck can throw out for having too many exhausted characters. Celeborn boosts Allies’ willpower the turn they enter play, possibly saving at least some of them from a surprise Ungoliant’s Spawn reveal, although that should be relatively rare anyway since there’s only one copy of her in the deck. And when I have too many exhausted characters, I can use the usual Silvan Events to bounce Allies back to my hand so they don’t count against me.
It’s worth noting that Silvan doesn’t have great thematic access to any condition removal cards (maybe Athelas would work, but it’s too fiddly in my opinion to have to play a Healer Ally down first), so I’ll be packing A Test of Will to hopefully cancel any copies of The Spider’s Web that come up. I’ll need to be prepared to take one on the chin if I don’t have A Test of Will in hand when it does rear its ugly head.
Let’s see what I came up with.
Deck: People of the Golden Wood
Theme: The elves of Lórien
Celeborn (The Dunland Trap)
Galadriel (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
Haldir of Lórien (Trouble in Tharbad)
3x Defender of the Naith (Trouble in Tharbad)
3x Galadhrim Healer (The Dread Realm)
3x Galadhrim Minstrel (Trouble in Tharbad)
3x Galadriel’s Handmaiden (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
1x Henamarth Riversong (Core Set)
3x Naith Guide (The Dunland Trap)
1x Orophin (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
2x Silvan Tracker (The Dead Marshes)
3x Woodland Courier (The Drowned Ruins)
1x Light of Valinor (Foundations of Stone)
2x Nenya (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
3x O Lórien! (Trouble in Tharbad)
3x Ranger Spikes (Heirs of Númenor)
1x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)
1x Wingfoot (The Nîn-in-Eilph)
3x A Test of Will (Core Set)
3x Island Amid Perils (The Nîn-in-Eilph)
2x Peace, and Thought (Shadow and Flame)
3x Sneak Attack (Core Set)
3x The Tree People (The Dunland Trap)
3x Tighten Our Belts (The Nîn-in-Eilph)
3 Heroes, 50 Cards
I generally mulligan for A Test of Will, or an otherwise decent hand that includes a Silvan Tracker and either O Lorien! or Nenya (to help pay for it). The Spider’s Web is the biggest common threat the encounter deck has to offer, and I don’t want to get hit by it without having some sort of answer.
On the first turn, even if I don’t get down any defenders, I can safely quest with Celeborn with the knowledge that I’ll be able to ready him using the Old Forest Road to defend the Forest Spider. Starting on turn 2, I can put down any Ally with at least 1 defense to tank the spider without dying until Haldir gets around to killing it.
Throughout the game, the goal is to use Galadriel’s ability and Island Amid Perils to keep threat low enough that I can leave most enemies in the staging area. Haldir can ping them from a safe distance, but for the most part I can just quest past them. After a couple of rounds I’ll have built up enough of a board presence that I can make steady progress on the quest.
In the event that Ungoliant’s Spawn shows up (either as a result of the “Don’t leave the Path!” stage 3 card or just as an encounter card draw) I need to make sure she stays in the staging area until I can have some explosive turn wherein I play down a bunch of Allies who can use Celeborn’s bonus to kill her. If I happen to know she’s coming, either because I’m likely to quest through Stage 2 this round or because Henamarth Riversong spotted her sitting atop the deck, I can put down Ranger Spikes so that I can take my sweet old time.
It might be a bit weird that Galadriel is in the deck about taking a message to Galadriel. Since she isn’t allowed to attack, defend, or commit to the quest, I’ve always seen her as helping the deck from afar somehow, either directly with elf magic or more subtly through encouragement or good advice rendered before the adventure started. In this case, I don’t have too much trouble seeing her as being representationally present rather than literally present on the journey.
I have always felt that Light of Valinor should be restricted to Noldor characters only, since having been to Valinor is kind of the main difference between the Noldor and other types of elves. In this case, though, since Galadriel is here and will be playing it on Celeborn, I almost see it as a thematic win. It’s almost like she brings the glory of Valinor with her wherever she goes, and her husband can draw strength from that.
I’m never quite sure how I feel about Title Attachments like Wingfoot. Thematically, only one character ever really fits any given title; in this case, it was Aragorn, not Haldir, who was called Wingfoot. But I’m also okay with a little deviation from the original fiction so long as it seems plausible. I can see two ways to justify this one: 1) Haldir is also nicknamed Wingfoot, just for different reasons, or 2) in this deck, the Wingfoot card represents the fact that Haldir knows of Aragorn and has learned something from him. Ultimately, though, it’s a 1-of card, and the deck would work fine without it, so if it bothers you you can pretend it’s another copy of Unexpected Courage instead.
Win Ratio: 5/5 (100%)
Most of the time, this deck was able to win without breaking a sweat. One particularly memorable questing phase I was able to quest for 18 without having a single exhausted character. It was pretty common to end up getting stuck with a copy of The Spider’s Web on Celeborn, but between the Silvan Tracker, Galadhrim Healer, and Light of Valinor, it wasn’t too hard to make sure that he didn’t die from taking damage every time he readied.
There was one game where Ungoliant’s Spawn showed up as a shadow card early on, raising my threat by an uncomfortable 5 and forcing me to engage enemies way more often than intended, but my deck was able to adapt. The ability for Allies to quest and still be ready in the combat phase (with boosted stats, no less) really helped to keep things moving smoothly.
All in all, I feel pretty good about my deck’s thematic cohesion, and it’s safe to say that Nightmare Passage Through Mirkwood has been thoroughly beaten. But as I pointed out before, Passage Through Mirkwood is far from the worst that Nightmare quests have to offer. How will I fare against the Hill Troll and his buddies in Nightmare Journey Along the Anduin? We’ll find out next time.